The Whitsundays were formed three years ago by Canadian singer/songwriter Paul Arnusch (also a member of the dream pop band Faunts and the post punk group the Floor) in order to create classic pop songs using his collection of vintage keyboard and guitars. Arnusch took the name right off a favorite t-shirt, even the script lettering, not as a reference to islands in Australia or a religious holiday. He collected musical friends for the project, enlisting a few members of fellow Edmonton band Shout Out Out Out Out among others. The first self-titled release in January 2008 accomplished this goal and more. Its carefully crafted song “Falling Over” became one of my favorites of the year, introducing me to the band’s hip take on the sunshine rock of yesterday. Rolling Stone even named them “the next big Canadian indie supergroup”. Yet, Arnush has described this new collection, Saul, as decidedly “different” since the musical vocabulary ventures into psychedelic meanderings and away from tight knit vintage song structures.
Saul was recorded by Arnusch alone in his basement over a long snowy winter. It begins with the funky, murky groove of “There’s a Monkey on My Back” and muddy, mesmerizing vocals. The experimental vibe explains the list of new influences: Galaxie 500, Pavement, Grandaddy, along with those already on the list from before such as David Bowie and Ariel Pink. “I Can’t Get Off of My Cloud’s” trippy title is the first clue for the guitar heavy, tambourine shaking opening before it unleashes into a free form montage—screams and all—only to return to the final fade out of a buzzing guitar. “Silent in the Wind” uses a carnival vamp before dissipating into a layered vision, rhythmically chugging along within a disjointed landscape. The lilting keyboard and guitar introduction of the final track “You Know I Can’t Lie Dreaming” sweetly carries the tune to end the CD.
There are still moments of harmonic bliss and classic pop, just within an expanded palette of modern electronics. Background voices of children, people handling instruments and playing together in a home studio give Saul a live feel, which will lend itself well in front of an audience whether recently at SXSW or at future gigs. It will be interesting to see whether the Whitsunday fans will be game for the ride.